- By award-winning sports writer Ivan Agnew
The Springboks remain as tough as teak in the rugby world but their lack of imagination and flair makes them boring.
There is no other conclusion to be reached after their blitz berg of bombs just failed, 17-19 to win their 100th test against the All Blacks at Townsville on Saturday night thanks to Jordie Barrett’s great long-range goal.
Should they mix toughness with flair next weekend the Boks might actually win their final stanza, especially if the All Blacks continue to drop high ball under pressure and fail to penetrate a steely defence.
However, although they are the reigning world champions with a boring series win against the British and Irish Lions this year, their reputation as New Zealand’s greatest rivals is now tarnished.
New Zealand have won 60 of their 100 tests to South Africa’s 36 with four drawn. The Boks remain physically and mentally strong with a powerful lineout and robust defence but their kicking obsession limits their running game.
Still, there have been some wonderful games since I first saw them play against Canterbury at Lancaster Park, Christchurch, in 1956. But with the All Blacks having won 18 of their last 22, there is no doubt who is top dog.
Sure, South Africa deservedly won the 2019 World Cup, upon convincingly beating England who had overwhelmed our lads, but NZ did beat the Boks comfortably in pool play.
Hopefully they will give full expression to their talents next weekend when the All Blacks will also be keen to eradicate errors in their game. That especially applies to catching the high ball where the normally super safe George Bridge dropped three.
Despite missing new dads Sam Whitelock, Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga, the All Blacks have prospered from a rotation policy that has showcased the talents of the up-and-comers.
With Beauden Barrett making first five his priority, Jordie Barrett’s 6ft 5in (1.96m) height and recent goal-kicking excellence has given him fullback preference over Damian McKenzie. And versatile Will Jordan, with 12 tries in nine tests, remains right wing preference ahead of Sevu Reece who has done nothing wrong.
Although well contained by the Boks, the centre combination of David Havili and Rieko Ioane has developed nicely with young Quinn Tupou a bright prospect and Beauden Barrett relishing his return to first five.
Especially interesting has been the growth of the loose forwards with Akira Ioane the big mover and Luke Jacobson, Ethan Blackadder and Hoskins Sotutu all capable of offering strong support to Ardie Savea.
But for misfortune the admirable Jacobson would have started the last test at No 8 where his muscularity and breakdown excellence gives him a slight edge over the jinky Sotutu. However Sotutu’s break, draw and sweetly timed pass from the scrum regularly reaps tries.
In beating South Africa and securing The Freedom Cup, New Zealand have won the Rugby Championship for the seventh time.
Meanwhile powerful veteran Samu Kerevi and exciting young gun Len Ikitau maintained their brilliance in the centres when the Wallabies swept the Pumas 27-8 in their second clash.
Under coach Dave Rennie, it is a team that has learned quickly and will prosper further if they can develop a tight five worthy of their loosies and fast, elusive backs.